The Initial Consultation
By guest blogger Michael Hammond
Your initial consultation with a prospective client is critical. When handled well, you will inspire trust and convert a prospective client into a paying client. When handled poorly, the client will seek the services of one of your competitors. Your success as a lawyer, the growth of your practice and the profitability of your firm all depend directly on how skilled you are in making this initial conversion. So, how do you go about making a good first impression?
Trust Is The Key
Think about the lawyer-client relationship from the client’s point of view. Clients seek professional services because they lack the necessary expertise and experience to solve their problem. In hiring you, they gain what they need, but they also lose something else – their control over their problem. Along with that feeling of losing control, most clients tend to believe that their risk – the consequences of not solving their problem – is much greater than their lawyer’s. In many cases, they’re right.
To compensate for having less control and more risk, clients focus on something they can understand — the level of trust they place in you. Clients will decide to trust you – or not – based upon how well you communicate with them. So how do you demonstrate that you are worthy of their trust? By knowing what the client looks for in the initial interview.
Listen To Understand
First, let the client tell their story! Whether the situation involves a simple transaction or a complicated dispute, clients want someone who listens to them and understands their situation. For complex matters, the use of reflective listening techniques can be helpful. Ask relevant questions and repeat what the client has said using phrases such as, “Let me see if I understand what your main concerns are…” or “What I hear you saying is…” This approach not only lets the client know they’re being heard, it allows you to gain clarification on important details and a deeper understanding of their problem. During this meeting with clients, don’t allow interruptions and demonstrate your trustworthiness by giving them your full attention.
First, Show How Much You Care
Once the client has told their story, respond empathetically. Phrases such as, “I’m sorry you’ve had such a difficult time.” Or “It’s unfortunate you’ve had to go through this experience,” or “I sympathize with you – that must have been very hard,” go a long way to building trust with a new client. Clients need to believe you care about them and their matter before they’ll trust you. Remember what John C. Maxwell once said: “People don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.”
Then Show How Much You Know
Earning the trust of a potential client also requires demonstrating your expertise by explaining how and why you can help them. Relate the facts of similar cases from your past experience as you discuss the actions you might take. Clients want to know that you have the expertise and experience necessary to solve their problem. Explain each stage of your work together to help the client understand the legal process and potential pitfalls along the way. Explain how you’ll handle the matter, what you can deliver, what they can expect to happen and when.
Do not over-promise. Also, be sure to explain what you’ll need from the client in terms of time, money, access, decisions, documents and information. The more you educate the client, set appropriate expectations and involve them in the process, the more cooperative they will be. When appropriate, reiterate these points in your engagement letter.
Measure Your Results
To see how successful you are at building trust and inspiring confidence, keep track of the number of desirable clients who hire you compared to the number of desirable clients who don’t. If your results are less than impressive, ask yourself how you can improve your communications skills to gain the trust and confidence of clients early on. Do you listen to the client’s story and try to fully understand their situation? Do you empathize first and then explain how you will apply your expertise and experience to solve their problem? Or do you shortcut the first two steps in your desire to show how much you know? Refine your communications and keep measuring your results. Remember that a successful initial client consultation will inspire confidence and build trust.
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